#TalkingTexts: Macbeth

Good morning!

I’m not pretending I’ll be able to do this every week for #TalkingTexts, however, this week I wanted to share a few of the highlights from last night’s chat, as it was the very first chat. It overran (in fact, as I write this, there are still comments coming in!), and I didn’t see everything, but what I did see was amazing! It is truly inspiring to have so much knowledge and so many thoughtful opinions from so many teachers available on this platform. Thank you to everyone who got involved.

Here were the original questions:

  1. When studying Macbeth, what are the most important contextual factors which we need to be aware of? (Social and historical)
  2. What (or who) has the greatest influence on Macbeth’s actions?
  3. ‘Macbeth is a ‘real’ tragedy because he was once virtuous.’ How far do you agree?
  4. Deception, ambition and kingship are all key themes in Macbeth. Which do you think is the most important and why?
  5. What are the best resources, websites, texts, etc. for us to learn more about Macbeth?

And here are some of the ideas that I learned/found thought provoking/interesting:

(Sorry, I scribbled these down, I can’t reference people specifically as I’m not sure where/who many of these ideas came from!)

Context:

  • Do we need to know more about madness and mental illness in Jacobean period? We apply too much modern knowledge of how the brain works to explain Lady Macbeth’s illness at the end of the play. This could have been seen as being ‘possessed’.
  • We need to consider how common regicide actually was in Jacobean times (and their recent history). E.g. The two young princes killed in the tower.
  • Macbeth set in a time where crown often ‘won’, rather than inherited.
  • Many people suggesting more research into Malleus Maleficarum and Daemonologie books, to understand ideas about witches.
  • James I and Banquo relationship – James I explicitly referenced as a descendant in the line of kings shown to Macbeth in Act 4.
  • Links between powerful women and Elizabeth I.

Macbeth:

  • Is his indecision a pretense? It takes less than 50 lines for him to be persuaded.
  • Macbeth as Machiavellian; he is more interested in the ends than the means.
  • Is Macbeth aroused by Lady Macbeth as a strong female figure? E.g. in the line ‘bring forth men children only’.
  • Is his blind hubris at the end admirable? He still wants to die with his sword in his hand.
  • Were all of Macbeth’s tyrannical tenancies just waiting to be unlocked, and the witches sense this in him?

Lady Macbeth:

  • Is a large part of her madness due to Macbeth’s rejection and abandonment? Reducing her to weaker female figure, whose strength was drawn almost entirely from a man?
  • Did it actually take more to convince Lady Macbeth to carry out the plot? She summons supernatural, and Macbeth is convinced by words alone.
  • Is she a fourth witch? (Controversial)
  • My favourite comment: is Lady Macbeth representative of the idea that strong women are unnatural, and should be feared?
  • Did Lady Macbeth just know how to prick Macbeth’s natural cowardice?
  • Is the overarching message in the play not about loyalty to the monarch, but rather a warning to women? (Strong females are dangerous, and will end up succumbing to insanity?)
  • Does she ultimately receive greater punishment for her ambition? (Possibly because she is female?)

Banquo:

  • He seems as interested in the prophecies as Macbeth, but the key difference is his loyalty. See quote: ‘never beg nor fear thy favours’.
  • Does Banquo try to call the witches’ bluff and out them as devil worshipers?

Duncan:

  • His hamartia is his trust.
  • Presented as very naive, considering how last Thane of Cawdor also betrayed him.

Further resources to consult/use:

 

More to come as I review more comments… Hopefully some of these questions/issues can be lifted and used as classroom discussion points.

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3 thoughts on “#TalkingTexts: Macbeth

  1. This is really interesting and useful.
    There were a couple of other things I wish I had been sufficiently engaged to add to the #talkingtexts- I wonder what you make of them or if anybody else raised them:
    1) in James Shapiro’s book, 1606, he explores the idea of “equivocators”. I hope I understood this correctly, but in essence the idea is that if you are a Catholic, and you are doing something you shouldn’t (eg plotting to blow up parliament)- the Catholic church had let it be known that it was ok to lie to the authorities, because God would read not your “false face” but the truth in your heart. This clearly has no end of applications to Macbeth. On a more abstract level, there it offers a lot to play with in relation to the stage- on which literally everybody is not as they appear- and also just simply in terms of the question of how meaning functions if we manipulate the relationship between sign from signified in such trixy ways.
    2) the other thing I often wonder about is the absent baby, to which Lady Macbeth has “given suck”. What is the role of this dead child in the play? Those lines in particular- from Act 1 scene 7 seem to go out of their way to make it clear that LM has had her own baby- but then the pivot to the dashing out of brains is one of the most shocking things I have ever come across…in anything. And then this kid is never really mentioned again. What on earth are we supposed to make of that?

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    1. Yes, I’m really surprised that the children/baby issue with Lady Macbeth didn’t come up actually! It’s something I always end up discussing with classes because I find it so interesting. Thanks for this comment – you’ve given me a lot to think about! Going to lift some of it and put into this blog if you don’t mind? 🙂

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